I listened with much interest recently when Big Red's Reno Saccoccia talked about the challenges faced and sacrifices made by today's high school football players.
The challenges, he told the crowd at the school's annual kickoff dinner, are twice what they used to be back in the day. Big Red's annual challenges start with a demanding schedule and the goal of reaching the playoffs. Once that is accomplished, Saccoccia's team has the challenge of representing Steubenville against the best the state has to offer.
Preparation and sacrifice begins in December and goes until the start of a new season. Basically, the veteran coach pointed out, today's players get no rest.
For meeting all those challenges head-on and making all those sacrifices, what do the players of today get in return? My response is plenty.
There is so much more value to be gained from playing high school football than capturing championships. Of course, here in the football-crazed area we call home, winning is the main measurement of accomplishing goals.
The value, however, of playing football goes far beyond success under the Friday night lights. There are so many valuable lessons that players can learn in the process of a season. In the competitive realm of high school football, winning and earning computer points both have their importance. The life lessons that can be gleaned from playing the game are of more value than titles, championships and trophies.
Now, of course, I realize some will argue that winning a championship is the measure of a successful program, and success is predicated by superior athleticism, talent, and financial support. Let's face it, people want to associate themselves with winning, and high school football isn't any different. The identities of entire communities live or die with the success of local football programs. It is much easier to fundraise in a community with a winning football team because those programs can show tangible accomplishments.
The essence of team sports is well represented in football. A team, after all, is a collection of individuals striving toward a common goal. In life, there is a great deal of importance placed on being triumphant. In athletic competition, it takes mentorship and leadership from dedicated coaches to direct a team forward.
Coaches, after all, have a huge responsibility: teach young athletes how to become responsible young men. Remember that please when you feel the need to criticize a coach this football season.
Most of the teams, perhaps all of the teams, in the Herald-Star/Weirton Daily Times coverage area won't end the 2012 season with a championship. So that begs the question - why strive for such mighty goals?
Goal setting gives an importance to playing a game that for its own sake has no real value. Goals that challenge an individual are paramount to exposing the valuable lessons that can be learned. This, in my humble opinion, is the real benefit of playing football. It empowers people to create a value from within. Competing, after all, is an ever-changing process that produces improvement, and without it a team could not measure its progress (we've all heard a coach talk about the need to improve from Week 1 to Week 2).
Keep in mind the value of competing is not always in winning. Risking failure is a necessary evil in order for growth to occur. It is through the agony of defeat that one can be exposed to the more subtle lessons of life.
Players of today, like those who came before them and those that will follow, can learn a lifetime of lessons in a single season. Football fosters the process of learning important and necessary lessons for living a successful life. It has been said that winning isn't everything and it is not the only thing. It is how much one can give of oneself that really makes football a special game for players.
So yes, as coach Saccoccia noted, players of today get no rest. But, I hope they remember the challenges faced and sacrifices made will help them travel the right path and eventually lead them to success as life moves forward.